You never forget your first cinematic love.
For the Summer of 1977, my earliest memories in my hometown’s drive-in theater had to do with that opening Star Destroyer flying over the planet of Tatooine, and later R2-D2 rolling down that desolate canyon, only to be captured by Jawas. It launched a merchandising bonanza that filled most Christmases and birthdays, was the prevailing subject of backyard playtime, and originated my love of cinema. I’ve met most of the original cast. I once got to hang out with Mark Hamill when he crashed a local party. If there is a reason why I ended up in the film biz, it’s Star Wars.
It’s hard to believe that this was once considered something of an “independent” project, helmed by a young and idealistic George Lucas, who loved the old Flash Gordon serials. But Star Wars, long before it was saddled with “episodes” and “saga” was once a standalone film that followed all of the classic beats of the hero’s journey.
At it’s heart, Star Wars is a pure fantasy film about a hero, a pirate, a wizard, and a princess, all at odds against a mysterious masked figure clad in black. The heroes have unusual companions, fantastical vehicles, makes sacrifices and experience deep losses. They are heroes that you believe in, cheer for, and over the years, become friends.
There’s been a litany of books and papers that cover the original Star Wars film, everything from the aforementioned “Heroes Journey” to the direct parallels to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. It’s hard not to mention the incredible orchestral score by John Williams when it once ran the risk of having a disco based soundtrack.
There’s also the characters themselves. Luke Skywalker, a farmboy who could be any one of us. Han Solo, a self-centered mercenary who reluctantly harbors a conscience and soft heart. Or Princess Leia, who defied the “damsel in distress” trope by not taking crap from anyone. She fearlessly insults and chides both Darth Vader and Governor Tarkin. When Han and Luke’s rescue plan falls apart, and they scramble to improvise, she takes the lead by cutting down their potential assailants.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is a tired Jedi who was once a war hero and had lost his best friend. C-3PO and R2-D2 serve as observers to the events before them while pushing the narrative into motion. Even Chewbacca, a Wookiee who speaks only in grunts, serves as both fearsome enforcer and loyal voice of reason. That’s nothing to say of Darth Vader, who is menacing, fearless, and unforgettable. Let’s be honest: As a kid, Darth Vader looks cool as Hell.
Star Wars is classic filmmaking that became (and still remains) a phenomenon. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve seen and quoted this film. And while I have loved the film, it does have some issues.
Those issues, ironically, came 20 years later. George Lucas decided to release the films back to theaters with “improvements” via a Special Edition cut. This meant filling scenes with multiple CG effects, and the infamous “Greedo shoots first” controversy. Each subsequent home video release added more, removed more, altered more, and none of it improved the film. If anything, the CG looked more dated than the original practical effects. What we didn’t know then is that these unnecessary changes and questionable additions would set the tone for all of Lucas’ future involvement with the Star Wars franchise until Disney bought the rights ownership from him.
As the original film stands, Star Wars introduced interesting locations, exotic aliens and droids, unforgettable vehicles, and a truly inviting world that the viewer wants to revisit time and time again. The earlier pre-1997 cuts will always remain my favorite versions of this film as it never needed to be “fixed” in the first place.
Star Wars will always be one of my favorite films and biggest cinematic influences. It’s a crucial “must-see” for any cinephile, and an excellent start for anyone’s journey into the imagination of film.